How Kendrys Morales Could Make Sense for Pirates

On January 25, Nick Cafardo of the Boson Globe wrote that if the Pirates don’t sign A.J. Burnett, they will use the money that had been reserved for Burnett to acquire an “everyday” first-baseman.

I responded to Cafardo’s report with a post (link) in which I quickly dismissed free agent Kendrys Morales as a possible “everyday” first-baseman for the Pirates. My reasons included the facts that Morales has only played 59 games at 1B since breaking his leg in 2010 and that the Pirates would have to surrender their 2014 first round draft choice as compensation for signing Morales. But Cafardo is now reporting that there is mutual interest between the Pirates and Morales, so, I am willing to revisit the possibility.

The First Round Draft Choice

I had felt that having to give up their first-round choice would keep the Pirates from even considering the possibility of signing Morales. And I believed that it would be a mistake for the Pirates to surrender that draft choice. But the Pirates are selecting 25th this year. In 2012, they traded for Gaby Sanchez and, in exchange, they gave the 35th pick in the 2013 draft to the Miami Marlins.

Morales could be worth the 25th pick in the first round of the 2014 draft.


Morales’ Defense

Baseball Prospectus 2014 says, “Morales might have been a good defender once, but the injury hindered him in the field.” And the statistics support that evaluation. Morales was once a pretty good defensive first-baseman.

In Morales’ last full season at 1B, 2009, he had a +5.6 UZR and was 8 defensive runs saved (drs) above average in 152 games. In 51 games at first-base in 2010 – prior to breaking his leg – Morales had a +4.0 UZR and a +3 drs.

But a broken leg changes things – especially one that requires surgery and an 18 month recovery.

In 28 games at 1B in 2012, Morales was -1 drs. That doesn’t sound bad, but over the course of a full season it equates to -5 drs and would cost his team about 0.5 wins. On the other hand, his 2012 UZR was a very good +2.3.

In 2013, however, all of the defensive metrics showed Morales as below average. In just 31 games, his UZR was -1.2, his drs was -2, and Baseball Prospectus had him at 1.3 Fielding Runs Below Average. Over a full season, that would put Morales somewhere between 6 and 9 runs below average.

Projection as Pirate

Plate Appearances: 440

BB%: 6.8%

K%:  16.2%

Batting Average:  .280

On-Base Percentage:  .334

Slugging Percentage:  .462

OPS:  .796

HR:  16

WAR: 0.9

A .796 OPS would be a vast upgrade on the .708 OPS that Garrett Jones gave the Pirates in 2013, but Morales’ below average defense and baserunning drags his overall value down to a 0.9 WAR.

Contract and Compensation

Morales turned down Seattle’s $14.1 million qualifying offer. That was a mistake.

Morales’ WAR-based Free Agent Value is $8.1 million. But the Pirates should not be willing to go that high for him. His projected 0.9 WAR is only worth about $4.8 million and the Pirates would also be paying the substantial price of giving up their 2014 first-round draft pick.

First round draft choices are precious to the Pirates. They need to keep acquiring and developing top prospects if they want to have a good shot at the playoffs every year, rather than trying to take advantage of a “window of contention” before they have to tear down and rebuild. But Huntington did trade the 35th pick in the 2013 draft to the Marlins for Gaby Sanchez. So, it is not out of the question that he would trade the 25th pick in the 2014 draft for Kendrys Morales.

Here’s how signing Morales and surrendering the pick could make sense.

The Pirates must get a big bargain on the contract and they must be able to use Morales to bring back prospects.

Morales WAR-based value is $8.1 million. His projected value is $4.8 million. I think the Pirates should be willing to go to $5 million, but they also have to get Morales for more than one season.

My plan would be to offer Morales a back-loaded, two-year contract with a team option for a third year. It would be something like $4 million for 2014, $8 million for 2015, and a $12 million option for 2016.

The Pirates would have Morales at a bargain rate for 2014 and could trade him for prospects after the season.

Will there be teams willing to trade prospects for a 1B with a .796 OPS and an $8 million contract? The Rockies recently signed Justin Morneau (.734 OPS) for 2 years and $12.5 million and the Marlins signed Garrett Jones and his .708 OPS for 2 years and $7.75 million.

This plan could potentially work out better in the long-run, as well as in 2014, than keeping the first round pick. The Pirates are no longer selecting at the top of the draft. Their excellent 2013 means that they will be picking 25th in the first round this year. It’s not unlikely that a prospect acquired in return for Morales could end up having a better career than the 25th pick in the draft.

Or, rather than going through all of that trouble, the Pirates could just keep the draft choice and go with Andrew Lambo at 1B. Or trade Nick Kingham for Ike Davis. But Eric Chavez was the left-handed 1B option whom I really wanted.





52 thoughts on “How Kendrys Morales Could Make Sense for Pirates

  1. I was working on a similar post. I figure he needs at least $14.5 guaranteed or he’ll just wait until after the draft. I’d go for 2 years. $6 mill in the first $8.5 in the second. Sweeten it with a couple million more in playing time incentives. If he can play nearly everyday the value will be there. Part of the reason the WAR is suppressed is because he was mostly a DH. Even playing subpar defensively at 1B would add WAR value over strictly being a DH. If he can’t handle the field you move him to an American League team for a bucket of balls just to unload the salary.

    • It’s good to see that somebody whose opinion I respect is thinking along the same lines. I wasn’t sure that I was not off the deep end with this. You may be right about the $14.5 million guarantee to get Morales past the sting of turning down the qualifying offer. But that should still be a manageable amount.

  2. I wouldn’t want Morales even at minimum wage, just because I value the pick more than him (and even tho the 25th pick hasn’t historically ‘brought home’ too many lumanaries).


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